Career Hitchhiking: A Professional Pastime?

How exactly does one “hitchhike” in their professional life?

I’m in the process of reading any good book or article that I can find about student development, making the transition from college to work and professional development.

This continuing education study comes from:

1) Realizing that most people, especially first generation professionals, can benefit from much more career exploration and mentoring earlier in their professional lives,

2) Needing to enhance my knowledge base as I pursue continued work in higher education and

3) Preparing to become a mentor through a new organization that offers guidance to recent college graduates.

Currently, I am reading Lindsey Pollak’s Getting From College to Career: collegetocareer90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World. I have only read the first 26 tips and I know that this book is a MUST read for any student or recent graduate, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

This book is extremely readable, with bits of wisdom provided in concise chapters with titles such as Start a Really Big List and Work to Change the World. Pollak does somewhat tailor the book for Gen Y (Millennials).

However, with a little over 10 years of experience in my own career, I am also benefiting from these tips in terms of being able to assess what I could have done to better prepare myself for the world of work and what I can do now to optimize my own professional development.

This book was not published until 2007. So, I believe that there are a number of Generation Xers, who can also benefit from perusing the insights in this book. So, I also recommend this book for someone in career transition. Also, gift or suggest this book to any upcoming or recent graduate that you know.

Suggestion 19, Don’t Be Caught Hitchhiking: Assess Yourself caught my attention immediately.  How exactly does one “hitchhike” in their professional life? The following excerpt demonstrates a common pitfall that many, including myself, has encountered or will experience:

“Everyone knows people who have ‘hitchhiked’ into their careers,” says Jerry. “They come out of school, stick their thumbs out, and take the first job that looks halfway decent. With rare exception, these people are dissatisfied, if not downright unhappy, in their work. The job may not provide what it is that motivates them in their work lives. Or they’re not using the skills they’re best at, or most interested in using. Or the environment is wrong. Or they don’t fit well with the kinds of people with who they have to work.” (p. 55).

This very brief passage describes my experience with my first full-time position exactly! Wow. I did not realize that I hitchhiked into my career. Unintentional career hitchhiking is a good way to get lost and confused professionally. How do you prevent career hitchhiking? Reading books like this one, conducting thorough career exploration and participating in as much networking as possible are a few solutions. This chapter also emphasizes the importance of career and personality assessment, which I advocate as well.

Admittedly, career hitchhiking represents a path of least resistance, which is why it is probably so typical. Hitchhiking can get you to some very interesting places that you have never experienced or would have ever known. Deliberate hitchhikers also usually have a destination in mind. As a result, I am open to hitchhiking as long as it is done with awareness and intention!

I never have hitchhiked in the traditional since. So, I was curious about the top tips suggested for hitchhikers. I discovered tips on the best places to get a ride, on how to present yourself and be pleasant during a ride, and of course safety tips for the journey. My brief review of hitchhiker tips yielded some amusing ideas adapted for the career hitchhiker:

The Top 10 Tips for the Career Hitchhiker

  1. Sit in the front passenger seat. Be on the lookout for a better opportunity to exit.
  2. If possible, find a reputable source for a ride through family, friends, a university/college career center, etc.
  3. Hitchhike with someone you know. If possible, hitchhike with a friend.
  4. Bring a map of your professional area, so you can determine whether a ride will actually bring you closer to your destination or provide a new set of useful skills or knowledge.
  5. Learn the language of the work environment. Hitchhiking can be a good way to improve your communication skills.
  6. Don’t mooch, actively participate and contribute while you’re taking the ride.
  7. Bring the proper tools: an evolving resume, career portfolio, mentor(s), professional contacts, etc.
  8. Sometimes you get an offer that brings you a little way in the right direction. This can be okay, but it could be a better idea to wait for an offer that brings you further.
  9. If in doubt, turn down the ride.
  10. If your ride isn’t bringing you to your final destination, ask for referrals.

Once again, I was reminded of the Gallup Poll, which indicates that approximately 70% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged in their work lives.

Could most of those employees have inadvertently hitchhiked into their professional lives?

2 thoughts on “Career Hitchhiking: A Professional Pastime?

  1. Latoya,

    Thank you so much for your positive review of my book! I really appreciate it and I’m glad to know about your blog. Hope you’ll check out my blog and comment on any articles that interest you — would love your perspective.

    Thanks again!

  2. Dolly says:

    Thanks for article. Everytime like to read you.

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